Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan - The Youth Forum Experience
In late 2015, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), called for applications from youths aged between 18-25 to attend the first Youth Forum for People and Wildlife. All applicants either work or volunteer in wildlife conservation and sustainable communities. The Forum was to be held in South Africa, prior to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES COP17). The call saw more than 1,000 highly competitive applications being received.
In February, 34 Delegates with diverse experiences and backgrounds in wildlife conservation and communities’ involvement, were chosen. Excitement sparked in those that were selected, here we come South Africa!
Between March and August, an online Virtual Platform was set up which allowed delegates to communicate their views and opinions. The forum had topics on Group Dynamics and Leadership, which looked at different cultures, interacting with each other and leadership qualities. Experts also became part of the Virtual Platform, with wildlife trade being the focus of discussions.
Weeks went by so quickly and then came the time for the big trip to Johannesburg, the most vibrant city of South Africa! All delegates, experts, contributors and guests from all over the world finally came together. Johannesburg welcomed guests with sunny weather, fresh breeze, friendly people, and joyful music coming from every corner. Most of the delegates had never been to the city before, neither had they met each other in person. Yet, after brief introductions in an informal setting it felt like a reunion of a big family.
The first day started with a fascinating tour to Soweto, a township of Johannesburg city. There, a visit to the Kliptown Youth Program (KYP) shaped a unique experience of the delegates: a local group of young dedicated people shared their aspiration to use education in order to bring opportunities for the community faced with acute poverty.
For the rest of the day, the delegates got a chance to visit Nelson Mandela’s house to learn more about the life of the great leader and his role in South-African history. Afterwards, the field trip outside Johannesburg was to follow.
The schedule was packed. To get to know each other better, the delegates were treated with a two night field trip to the Pilanesberg National Park. Here we undertook some team building workshops learning about each others work and opinions on conservation techniques. We also had a rare opportunity to interact with game rangers, witness a anti-poaching drill and learn more about their everyday life in the bush. During the game drives, the delegates saw all of the big five animals, 'Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Leopard and Buffalo'. The excursion allowed delegates to appreciate the beautiful wildlife in its natural habitat and recognise the threats it is facing before the formal opening of the forum.
The formal opening ceremony of the IFAW Youth Forum for People and Wildlife saw various speakers including President and CEO of IFAW, Mr Azzedine Downes, who elaborated on ways for the youth to be visible and be “the dots to connect each other in wildlife conservation”. We engaged in wildlife conservation topics with expert panelists on wildlife trade, CITES, critical thinking, communication skills, networking and mentoring. Part of the sessions were streamed live on the Virtual Forum, allowing the general public to participate as well.
Delegates then prepared a Youth Resolution for youth involvement in the CITES processes. To formally close the event, a dinner was hosted for the delegates with special guests and dignitaries which included the CITES Secretary General John Scanlon. The inaugural Youth Forum for People and Wildlife was a great sucess.
On a final note symbolizing the forum and all the inspiring work of the delegates in wildlife conservation, we were honoured to be invited to attend the official CITES CoP17 opening ceremony. This event of global importance united 182 parties worldwide fighting for the future of endangered species heavily affected by trade.
The conference began with the opening statement from the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, welcoming over 3,000 participants and emphasizing the importance of seeking relevant solutions for the challenges wildlife faces in various aspects.
Despite the fact that the Youth Forum ended over 2 months ago, the hard work put towards the forum and wildlife conservation did not stop there, proving the efficiency of investment dedicated towards young generations. Among the initial outcomes are: presentation of the resolution on youth engagement in CITES and the creation of the global network Youth for Wildlife Conservation (Y4WC) comprising all 34 delegates aiming to support, promote and reinforce youth leadership in conservation. Y4WC seeks to build a network of youths, who can not only claim involvement, but are already providing solutions to the wildlife conservation sector.